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Simpsons Skateboarding – Despair on a Disc

Today we’re taking a look at Simpsons Skateboarding, a PS2 exclusive from 2002. This came out about a month after Tony Hawk 4, which is pretty impressive actually. This has a very similar setup as that game, where you can free skate until you start a challenge, and that’s when the timer starts. So I have to give it some props for being developed at the same time.

Also, it has the real voice actors from the show, which is great. I wasn’t allowed to watch the show as a kid, because my dad thought it was too sarcastic and he didn’t want it to rub off on me and my brother. It didn’t work. I watched the show a bit when I got older, but I was never a huge fan. But I can at least respect and appreciate it.

I got a lot of recommendations for this game, and I never played it back then. I just popped it in for a couple of minutes and it seemed okay. But I didn’t realize the pain I would be setting myself up for until I actually played it for a while. I was assuming everyone recommended the game because they loved it as a kid, but I checked the Metacritic score, and it’s 38. This is from a Cinescape review where they scored it zero out of ten:

“The gameplay is absolutely atrocious. Imagine a game where you can’t turn around without fighting the controller, where jumping is completely inaccurate, and the only way to finish the game is completing controller functions that will quite literally have you hating yourself for picking up this title in the first place.”

So thanks guys.

There are a few modes in the game, like the tutorial mode. You learn some basic tricks here. The controls are essentially the same as Tony Hawk – triangle does grinds, square does flips, circle grabs and x ollies. So you won’t have any problem with that. Some of the tricks look okay, but it’s not long before you come up with weird grab names like ‘improbable.’ I’ll never understand this. I feel like they’re trying to not rip off Tony Hawk too much, but that doesn’t mean you have to rename actual skateboard tricks that people have been doing for decades.

And look at the 360 flip. It looks completely horrible. It’s like the animator got a written description of the trick and then eyeballed it. The board doesn’t pop at all, and it really looks awkward. A crappy tre flip can make a skateboarding game really frustrating to play. Especially when it doesn’t even count in the tutorial! Just look at this! After a while, I realized that I was waiting too long, and you have to hit the button right away to avoid having it labeled ‘late,’ which is technically a different trick. I have no idea why they would do that.

And now it’s time to learn grinds! My God, just kill me. I don’t even want to watch this footage back. I have to do a tailslide for 5 seconds. And it doesn’t work at all. Grinds are basically broken in the game. It seems like you balance better when you’re going faster, but that doesn’t seem like it’s always true. So if I want to grind for 5 seconds while moving fast, I can ONLY grind this rail. Every other ledge is too short. But guess what! This rail instantly goes uphill. When you’re sliding up, it slows you back down. If you slide to a stop and turn around, the balance meter jumps and you lose control.

No joke, I tried this over and over for about 20 minutes. And I absolutely could not beat it. This is the second level of tutorial of a game mostly aimed at kids – and I can NOT get past it. I’ve played every single Tony Hawk game except for Pro Skater 5. I’ve played countless other skateboard, BMX, snowboarding and rollerblading games – consistently since about 2000. I can handle a balance meter. But it’s just impossible here.

OK, let’s try the career mode. You go to places around Springfield and skate. The graphics, at first impression, look pretty good. The characters look okay, or least recognizable. The bright, colorful graphics seem to match well. The voice acting is spot on, like you’d expect.

It also has a new idea where you can aim for where you ollie out of a grind. It shows you an arrow that you can move to help you string things together. So far, so good. But there’s another fatal flaw.

The turning is broken. It just doesn’t work. It feels like being on a longboard. You know the first time you rode a longboard and realized that kickturning basically doesn’t work, and you just have to turn by leaning? And how you can’t turn unless you have speed? That’s exactly what this feels like. But with a longboard, you’re cruising down a path somewhere, so it makes sense. In this game, you’re trying to carefully get around and hit obstacles with a ton of precision. It’s horrible. And you’ll struggle with it a lot.

Let’s talk about the tricks. This game took a lot of criticism for having an extremely limited trick system. Let’s take a look. There are 4 flip tricks. Kickflip, 360 flip, frontside shove it – which it just calls a shove it. And a frontside 360 shove it. That’s it. No double taps, no up-left, down-left or other diagonals on the D-pad.

Here’s every grind. Some of them are okay, like the boardslide, nose and tail slides, nose grind, 5-0, and 50-50. And there’s crooked grind. But what about these? Crooked slide? Blunt grind?

The majority of the variety of the game comes from the grabs. But they’re all nonsense. Here’s the list. It’s full of made up trick names with Street Fighter style combos. I couldn’t get most of them to work.

Here’s how the goals work. It’s stuff like you would expect – round up the kids who are skipping school. Collect letters to spell certain things. But the big difference between this and other games is this compass on the top of the screen. It will lead you to a goal, like the first closed sign you’re supposed to knock over. Then the compass will show you the second, third, fourth and fifth ones until you finished the goal. Then the arrow points you at the next goal. So you really don’t have to know what you’re doing or plan anything at all. In fact, going out of order can be hard. I found some letters floating around here, but I’d pass right through them. Why? Because it’s not the first letter and the arrow didn’t lead you there. So you just have to ignore it and move on.

Most of the challenges are just to find and collect stuff. It doesn’t matter what. Follow the arrow, and you’ll get to a fire hydrant or something floating in the air, and you’re good. Most of the time.

In this case, it takes you to this spot, but the thing you need is on his power line here. How do you get there? This is another problem with the game. They wanted it to feel like a full sized, living and breathing city, but there are some compromises. There are full city blocks that are just buildings you can’t interact with. Some of the later Tony Hawk games had this same problem too, but they always had a way to get up on the buildings, like benches that had little kickers that would pop you up. And you could at least wallride them.

So back to the power line. You’ll spend a lot of time trying to figure out where the line starts that you can grind. And luckily you can move the camera around. I tracked this end of the rail to right here. But riding up hills is pretty much impossible. You can’t ride straight up, or you’ll stop. You have to ride at an angle to have any chance. So finding the right spot is a chore, and getting to it is torture.

I kept tracking it and figured out that I’ll have to grind up to this roof somehow and go from there. But I can’t get to it directly. I have to gap from the quarter pipe over here, which doesn’t seem so bad. But every step is next to impossible.

First, you have to transfer up to the higher quarter pipe. Sometimes that’s first try, but with the turn controls, that’s really tough. If you make it, you have to transfer off and grind the pipe. But you’re more likely to grind literally anything else.

If you get lucky, you’ll land on it every now and then. It takes a lot of speed to get anywhere before you lose balance, but if you have too much speed, you’ll curve around and grind the coping. Or just bail.

Anyway, if you get into a good grind, you have to grind until it’s about to turn and then ollie over to the other rail.

Remember the cool thing where you could aim where the arrow goes and ollie where you want? Well it’s not cool here. It just makes it really hard to actually ollie straight and land on the next thing. I swear, these levels were designed for a Tony Hawk style engine, and then they just pasted it into their new engine without testing anything. Because it just doesn’t work.

After a ton of luck, you’ll eventually get up onto the roof. And you’ll see this restart point. They put these at some places, like a reset marker in the Skate series. They knew it was really hard to get up here, but I’d rather they fixed that instead of giving you the save point.

After a dozen tries, you might be able to balance a grind long enough to grab the thing you need.

Aside from the collecting stuff, you’ll also see these timers sometimes. These give you a time limit to try to get a high score in. You can go anywhere you want, which is nice, but since the controls are so bad, it’s not exactly a treat. I had a lot of trouble by the time I got to the second level, but that’s because I couldn’t beat the tutorial, so I didn’t know about manuals. But it’s just like Tony Hawk – hit up down as you land. But the difference is that you don’t have to revert. You can do a trick on vert and just land straight into a manual and keep going. You can manual about 5 inches before you bail. It’s hard, but you can get used to it after a while.

I beat most of the challenges in this level, but I didn’t unlock the next one. So I decided I better just finish everything I have available, and maybe that will be enough. It doesn’t really tell you what you need to unlock it though.

So I started trying the contest levels. You just have to get a high score in a certain time limit. Unlike some other horrible games, it does actually tell you what that score is, which is helpful. The only problem is that the score is about 5 times higher than it should be. These are tough. The first one wasn’t too bad, but I couldn’t beat the second one at all. It wants 40,000 points, and I think the best I got was around 35. And it’s HARD. I’m pulling out all the stops and trying my best to get the combo up really high. But it’s so high-risk. Every time you grind or manual, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll bail instantly because your balance is so bad. But I got second place, and that should at least help. Still no new level though.

So I went back to the two levels I have left, and all there is to do is collect a couple of things. In this level, there’s a collectible on top of this train track. But it doesn’t seem possible to actually collect. Over here, you can ollie onto the rail and start grinding it, but you’ll never make it all the way up the hill and around the level with the amount of speed that you have. It just doesn’t happen. By the way, I have no explanation for why my balance is almost perfect here.

I figured out, at this point, that you can buy more stats. So I bought some more speed, and some rail balance too. Still no luck.

I tried to track the rail around to the other end to see if I could get on it that way. It looks like you might be able to get to it from this building, but you just don’t know. I went all the way around the building to get an angle on it, and it looked like the best way to get up was transfer over into a grind here, then carefully skate over to this rail and try to grind up to the next level. But it’s just too frustrating. After about 10 minutes, I just gave up. There’s no telling that this is actually the right way to get that collectible anyway. And I’m sure I’d never be able to hold my grind long enough to get over there.

I thought I should give the tutorial another try. Maybe this would give me enough points to move on. I bought as much rail balance as I possibly could. It actually seems pretty high now. This challenge starts with noseslides, which I was able to do before, and I beat it again. But still, when you get to tailslides, it’s almost impossible. But it’s SLIGHTLY less impossible now, so after another 15 minutes, I beat it. Then I breezed through the rest of the tutorials.

Guess what? Still no new level.

So I went back to the other level I have unlocked, and again, there’s just one collectible that doesn’t seem possible to get. Here it is above that wire up there. I tracked it both ways, and this way ends at a building over here. I can’t figure out any way to get up on it. It doesn’t seem like the right way. I thought maybe this really steep ramp would send me somewhere. But of course there’s no way to get speed for it. The designers put rails everywhere to block where you might want to go. There’s zero flow in the design here. I tracked it the other way, and it seems to end over here. But how do you get there? The doors are all locked – it’s not like you roll in the door and reappear on the top. So I’m thinking that maybe you grind over from another building. But I couldn’t figure out how to get on top of that one either.

It looks like there’s one building somewhere in the whole level that you can get on, then you’ll have to grind that to get to another one, then another one, then another one, where you’ll eventually get where you want to go. But there’s no way to know which one it is. And the game is so thoroughly un-enjoyable that it’s painful to keep looking. I had no choice but to give up on the game at this point. I really don’t know how to proceed, but I’m thankful that I don’t have to play any more. I give up.

So that’s Simpsons Skateboarding. Honestly, one of the most unlikeable games I have ever played. Maybe not the worst – but even games that are broken or bad have something in them that you can enjoy. Just the way a certain trick looks, or the sound design. SOMETHING. But here, it’s all bad. If you’re a huge fan of the show, you might get some mild enjoyment out of the voice acting, but there’s plenty of the real show to watch too. So that’s a bad reason to get it.

This game is shocking to me. It looks like it should be good. It looked like they put a lot of effort into making everything in it. From trailers and screenshots, you’d have no idea it was so horrible. But the design is just so bad. The way they laid out the levels, the way the challenges work. The way the menus work. Every detail is close to being good, but far enough off that it hurts you every time you try to do anything.

I really wanted to play a good game for once. And I thought this one was going to be it. But instead, it’s a game that’s found on lists of the worst games ever. Maybe next time.

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